Jablonski, Marek (Michael)


Italy and France (1498–1503)



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5. Italy and France (1498–1503).


It appears that by December 1498 Josquin may have left the papal chapel and re-entered the service of Ascanio Sforza: in that month Ludovico Gonzaga, bishop of Mantua, wrote to Rome that he was sending a servant named ‘Juschino’ to deliver some hunting dogs to Ascanio. In February 1499 Ascanio wrote to Isabella d’Este, thanking her for the gift of hunting dogs that had been delivered by his servant Juschino. It was probably about this time that Josquin composed the two frottole In te Domine speravi and El grillo, published by Petrucci with the ascription ‘Josquin Dascanio’ (RISM 15044 and 15054); frottole with their characteristics can have originated no earlier than the 1490s (see Prizer, 1989), so the works cannot belong to Josquin’s earlier period of service with Ascanio in the mid-1480s. Not long afterwards, in a letter of December 1499, Johannes Vivaysius, a singer of the Duke of Ferrara, sent an unspecified composition by Josquin to Francesco Gonzaga in Mantua (see Gallico, 1971). Although there is no implication that Josquin was present, the letter indicates the availability of his music in Ferrara and Mantua in the late 1490s.

The 1490s were particularly turbulent years for Italy, beginning in November 1494 when King Charles VIII of France led his army down the peninsula, halting briefly at Florence and Rome before moving on to occupy Naples in early 1495. The invasion triggered decades of political turmoil in Italy, including the expulsion of the Medici from Florence in 1494 and the dominance of the city’s political life by the extremist reforming friar Girolamo Savonarola until 1498, when he was burnt at the stake as a heretic. In 1499 another French invasion by the new French king, Louis XII, toppled the Sforza dynasty in Milan. Louis eventually captured and imprisoned both Ludovico and Ascanio Sforza in 1500, and added ‘Duke of Milan’ to his other titles.

Circumstantial evidence indicates that Josquin returned north to service with the king of France at this time. Glarean (Dodecachordon, 1547) related an anecdote that places Josquin at the court of Louis XII (reigned 1498–1515; in repeating the tale Hémeré mistakenly substituted the name of Louis’ successor François I). The composer, so the story goes, had been promised a benefice by the king, who had failed to keep his word. As a pointed reminder, Josquin composed a motet on verses from Psalm cxviii, Memor esto verbi tui servo tuo (‘Remember your word to your servant’). The work is said to have produced the desired effect, for members of the court applauded it and the king was shamed into fulfilling his promise. Glarean went on to say that Josquin offered his thanks by setting the subsequent verses of the same psalm, Bonitatem fecisti cum servo tuo Domine, but while Memor esto undoubtedly ranks as a work of Josquin’s full maturity, Bonitatem fecisti is by another composer altogether, Carpentras (Elzéar Genet). Glarean’s story may hold some truth, despite his erroneous attribution of the latter motet.

Other works by Josquin that seem to have been destined for the French royal court are the fanfare-like Vive le roy and In exitu Israel, a setting of Psalm cxiii that paraphrases the tonus peregrinus and concludes with the antiphon for Sunday Vespers; in this it resembles settings of this psalm by Jean Mouton and Claudin de Sermisy, members of the French royal chapel (see Macey, 1991). Likewise, the five-voice setting of the funeral Psalm cxxix, De profundis, with its triple canon signalled by the words ‘Les trois estas sont assemblés/Pour le soulas des trespassés’ (‘The three estates have gathered to pray for the dead’), may have been composed for the funeral of Louis XII in 1515 (see Osthoff, 1962–5), or perhaps for a different royal funeral, such as that of Philip the Fair (d 1506) or Louis XII’s queen, Anne of Brittany (d 1514; see Kellman, 1971).

Helmuth Osthoff (1962–5) believed there was documentary evidence locating Josquin at the French court in December 1501, with a further implication of service with Ercole d’Este at a period anterior to his appointment as maestro di cappella in 1503–4 (see below). On the occasion of the state meeting in Blois between Louis XII and Archduke Philip the Fair of Burgundy, who was en route to Spain (Ascanio Sforza, who had been released from prison, was also there with the French court), the Ferrarese ambassador Bartolomeo de’ Cavalieri wrote to Ercole (13 December 1501):

I have found here a singer named Josquin, whom your excellency had sent to Flanders to find singers … and he says that the Archduke has asked him to go along to Spain, and that the Archduke has written to your excellency to see whether you will agree to lend him.

Two factors indicate that this singer was not Josquin des Prez, however. In the first place, in a letter of September 1501 Cavalieri had mentioned that he was sending Ercole new music by Josquin, so it is unlikely he would have referred to the composer as ‘a singer named Josquin’. More significantly, a singer named Josse van Steeland (recorded as ‘Josquin chantre’ at the court of the Duke of Lorraine in 1493) entered the Burgundian chapel at the beginning of November 1501, travelled to Spain with Philip (as Josquin did not) and remained in the chapel after Philip’s death at least until 1514 (see Reese and Noble, 1984; Vander StraetenMPB, vi, vii). It is much more probable that Cavalieri was writing about Steeland.

Meetings between Louis XII and Ercole d’Este are documented in 1499 and 1502, and, if Josquin was indeed in the service of the French king, these contacts may provide a context for the composer’s move to Ferrara in 1503. In the autumn of 1499 Ercole travelled to Milan to confer with Louis, who had vanquished the forces of Ludovico Sforza. This meeting presented an opportunity for Ercole and his agents to recruit new singers for his chapel; he was particularly anxious to hire a new maestro di cappella to replace Johannes Martini, who had died in 1497. In the summer of 1502 Louis XII was once more in Milan, and Ercole again journeyed to meet him. In the spring of the same year, Ercole had sent his son Alfonso to Lyons to meet with Louis XII to reassure the French of Ferrarese support. One of Ercole’s agents, Girolamo da Sestola (‘il Coglia’), had been sent on to Paris, where he may have had a chance to sound Josquin out about the position at Ferrara (see LockwoodMRF). Some months later, on 14 August 1502, Coglia was back in Ferrara and wrote to recommend Josquin to Ercole, who was still in Milan:

My Lord, I believe that there is neither lord nor king who will now have a better chapel than yours if Your Lordship sends for Josquin … and by having Josquin in our chapel I want to place a crown upon this chapel of ours.

Some two weeks later, on 2 September, an opposing view arrived from another of Ercole’s agents, Gian de Artiganova, who recommended Henricus Isaac:

To me [Isaac] seems well suited to serve Your Lordship, more so than Josquin, because he is more good-natured and companionable, and will compose new works more often. It is true that Josquin composes better, but he composes when he wants to and not when one wants him to, and he is asking 200 ducats in salary while Isaac will come for 120 – but Your Lordship will decide.

Artiganova provides a rare glimpse of Josquin’s personality, indicating that he was a difficult colleague and that he took an independent attitude towards producing music for his patrons. Ercole nevertheless decided in Josquin’s favour, and eagerly awaited his arrival in Ferrara in late April of 1503. The salary of 200 ducats counts as the highest ever paid to a member of the ducal chapel (see LockwoodMRF). Before departing for Ferrara in 1503 Josquin was in France, and he travelled to Italy by way of Lyons, where Louis XII was meeting with Philip the Fair. The combined chapels of the two leaders were present, as was Ascanio Sforza, Josquin’s former patron. Cavalieri’s dispatches to Ferrara from Lyons in mid-April 1503 reported that Coglia and Josquin had arrived and that he had found it necessary to provide lodging for them in his own house because of the crowded conditions in the city.



Josquin des Prez


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